One of the many perks of staying at a Universal Orlando deluxe on-site hotel is the chance to enjoy the amenities at all three deluxe hotels. Universal sometimes refers to staying on-site as staying at a “12-diamond” hotel, because guests have access to three “four-diamond” properties (the deluxe properties are Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Royal Pacific Resort). With this benefit, you can take a break from the theme park craziness by strolling the immaculate resort grounds, feasting in all the fantastic restaurants, or, in our case, taking a dip in any one of the luscious on-site hotel pools.
On our recent four-day vacation to the parks, we managed to visit all three main pools at the deluxe on-site hotels. In retrospect, the pools may have just been the highlight of our stay, especially for our theme park-adverse teenage son. The pools all have plentiful lounge chairs, many with umbrellas for those seeking relaxation without sun. The towel centers not only provide fluffy towels, they also have complimentary pool noodles, sunscreen, swim diapers, and ice water. The difference between a visit to the average rectangular hotel pool and the experience at Universal’s pools is like comparing plain unsweetened yogurt to strawberry cheesecake frozen yogurt!
Pool-hopping to Royal Pacific Resort
We checked in to Royal Pacific Resort early Monday morning and proceeded to Universal Studios Florida. After a full day of touring the park while waiting for our room to be available, we were ready to spend the evening by the pool.
What a wonderful pool by which to relax! We found the Royal Pacific pool vibe to be the most tropical, and it was the only one that offered both ice water and citrus-infused ice water in multiple locations. It was lovely to be able to get a cup of cold water so simply. There is a small zero-entry area near a delightfully enclosed toddler pool and sandcastle-building site. The chairs across from the sloped entry are sitting in sand, but most of the area’s chairs were on concrete. My kids quickly found the volleyball net stretched across a gooseneck in the pool. They played water volleyball for hours with a variety of different opponents.
There is a beach volleyball court, too, located just beyond the pool gate that leads to the Garden Walkway. The field of play is somewhat sloped towards the water, so the ball often headed into the lagoon. My kids joined a game in session; however, the volleyballs can be checked out at the towel center using one’s room number. A table tennis game was next on the agenda for the kids.
While our more energetic teens checked out every game on-site, my husband and I soaked up some relaxation and daiquiris. Royal Pacific’s poolside interactive play area was a bit young for my teenagers, but it got plenty of use by other kids while we were there. The restrooms are located near the play area, and it took some care to keep from being sprayed on the journey. The small building houses two single stall bathrooms. It is nice that the restrooms are not overly cold or located inside the main air-conditioned building.
Later in the day, the pool staff set up an outdoor screen for the nightly “dive-in” movie while we enjoyed supper. The Bula Bar and Grille offers a variety of snacks, light meals, and beverages all served up by friendly wait staff.
In all, the Royal Pacific pool really was the perfect end to our first day at Universal Orlando.
Pool-hopping to Hard Rock Hotel
Tuesday, we took advantage of the early entry into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. With pool-hopping in mind, we headed to the parks with a bag packed with sunscreen, swimsuits, wet bags (purchased online, marketed for diaper bags or gym members), and a couple of good books on my “Dry Pak”- (waterproof bag for electronics) encased Kindle. We stashed our bag in the lockers outside Islands of Adventure so we would not lose any time once we were admitted into the park.
After a trip to Hogsmeade and lunch at Mythos, we retrieved our bag and walked to Hard Rock Hotel. The walk was a bit longer than the one to Royal Pacific, but it was lovely nonetheless. We made use of the restrooms near the hotel’s exit to the pool area to change into our swimwear, and then headed back out into the sunshine. Although the main pool gate had a key card reader, a member of the pool staff opened the gate for us upon our approach.
Just inside the gates, we picked up towels at the towel center and headed around the pool to find some chairs under an umbrella. Most chairs at the Hard Rock pool are situated on sand, and the majority of the pool features a zero-entry slope into the water. The activity director kept the under-10 crowd busy with rounds of hot potato (or get-rid-of-the-beach-ball) and rubber ducky hunts. My teens found the beach volleyball court and spent enough time there to scald the bottoms of their feet.
At the Hard Rock pool, the court is a small area just beyond the pool slide. My son loved that it was so easily accessible; I loved that it was in sight of the pool. The fact that it had a near-constant game going was also a point in its favor. My daughter loved the water slide – after the slide’s slow start, it seems a bump midway livens things up. One set of restrooms is located to the right of the bar. Imagine air-conditioned, standard-issue bathroom stalls. Between the restrooms and bar, there are two pool tables.
The wait staff here was ever-vigilant, and the drinks were great. The fruit bowl was droll-worthy, but we headed out before hunger struck, so we did not try the food poolside. However, we did try the hot tub! Our kids wanted to join us, so we skipped the adult-only hot tub.
After we’d had our fill of sun and great music, we rinsed off at the outdoor shower just next to the hot tub, gathered our things, and changed in the restrooms inside. Our swimsuits safely ensconced in our wet bags and our hair pulled back in ponytails, we walked out the pool gate to head back to IOA. The pool bag went back in the locker (since we answered “no” to the inquiry “is this your final time retrieving your items?” when we grabbed the bag earlier), and we proceeded to dry our hair on the Incredible Hulk Coaster.
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Pool-hopping to Portofino Bay Hotel
On Thursday, we had our chance to check out the Portofino Bay pool after a tour of Universal Studios Florida. Once we slayed our quota of aliens at MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack, we grabbed our pool bag and made our way to the water taxi dock; knowing that Portofino Bay was further from USF than Hard Rock Hotel, I convinced my family to take the boat.
After arriving at the Italian waterfront dock, we followed the signs to the Beach Pool, which took us up a flight of stairs and down a second set to the pool gates. We changed into our swimsuits in bathrooms to the left of the towel center. Fluffy towel pick-up was accomplished just in time for an afternoon shower to break, so we ducked under the covered bar seating area and had a snack. Once the sun popped out again, we found chairs under an umbrella.
Portofino Bay’s Beach Pool offered cushioned lounge chairs that managed to remain dry despite the rain. The pool was deeper than the others we visited, although not by much. The water slide received a thumb’s up from my daughter. My son played table tennis in the absence of a volleyball court. I loved the hot tubs here, which featured rock walls with waterfalls – that is, waterfalls of hot water. Brilliant!
The afternoon was more shade than sun and we sat out another shower. That may have explained the low attendance at the Beach Pool – that or the fact that there are two other pools on property at Portofino Bay Hotel. Whatever the reason, it was the quietest of the pools we toured. When were were ready to leave, we left our swimwear on, put on cover-ups, and headed to IOA to ride the water rides. Finally, one last wet walk through Hogsmeade and Seuss Landing and we were back at the Royal Pacific pool enjoying our last night at Universal.
UPDATE: Pool-hopping at Cabana Bay Beach Resort
This is Dan chiming in with an update! Now that Cabana Bay Beach Resort is fully open, we have received many questions regarding the possibility of pool-hopping there. Well, fear not, dear readers – Cabana Bay is more than happy to share its two giant pools, 100-foot water slide, and lazy river with all on-site guests at Universal Orlando. Likewise, guests staying at Cabana Bay have the opportunity to enjoy the pool areas at the deluxe on-site hotels. (Policy subject to change, as always.)
Please note that getting to Cabana Bay isn’t quite as easy as getting to the three deluxe on-site hotels. From CityWalk, you’ll want to take the shuttle. It’s free, but you will have to walk all the way to the guest drop-off area underneath the main transportation hub. Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct shuttle between the on-site hotels. What’s more, the layout of the hotel properties is such that walking to Cabana Bay from CityWalk or the deluxe on-site hotels is not particularly convenient.
For all the information you could possibly want on Cabana’s amenities and features, please see our guide page.
Now, back to the original story…
Final thoughts about pool-hopping at Universal Orlando
Renting daily lockers made mid-day pool hopping much less work. At $8.00 to $10.00 each, we really felt it was worth the price to save ourselves a trip back to our home hotel – after all, time is money while on vacation. It was also great to head out of the parks while the masses seemed to swell in the heat of the afternoon. (See the links at the bottom of the post for more information.)
None of the hotel staff questioned our right to be at any of the pools once they saw our hotel key card. We also used our key card to pay our tab while pool-hopping at Hard Rock and Portfolio Bay.
My 15-year-old son preferred the Hard Rock pool. My 13-year-old daughter liked the Portofino Bay Beach Pool the best. My husband and I loved the laid-back island feel of the Royal Pacific pool.
No matter which location you choose to settle in poolside, drink in one hand and Kindle in the other, it is hard to imagine that you are literally a heartbeat away from the amazing theme parks at Universal Orlando. Being able to enjoy three uniquely themed pools was a luxury. Refreshing water, great service, and happy teenagers – it doesn’t get much better than that.
What’s the best pool at Universal Orlando? Tell us below.
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